Prague, 11 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today focuses primarily on current and future relations between the United States and the European Union, as U.S. President George W. Bush begins his first official trip to the Continent. Other topics include Iranian reformist President Mohammad Khatami's victory in his re-election bid and Ireland's decision on 8 June not to ratify the Treaty of Nice, thereby creating a potential obstacle to EU enlargement. Other commentators reconsider the issues surrounding the death penalty in light of the execution today of Timothy McVeigh by lethal injection.
An editorial in the "Financial Times" proposes that the world's most important bilateral relationship is that between Europe and the United States, and suggests that the upcoming Continental visit by President Bush should be used to help heal the divide that has characterized their relations since the onset of the Bush administration. The editorial emphasizes the importance of what it calls "confidence-building," brought about through "plain speaking and seeking common ground."
It writes: "[Both] sides need to be clear about each other's interests and priorities and the domestic pressures and constraints underlying them." It adds that on the issues of global trade and relations with Russia, both the EU and the U.S. have common, and significant, interests. "The two powers' interdependence far outweighs their differences," the paper writes. "Repairing their relationship requires a commitment to deepening cooperative processes, a willingness to listen, and ample political goodwill."
An editorial in "The Washington Post" also looks at European-U.S. relations, and says that President Bush should offer enduring support for NATO enlargement in order to "demonstrate continued U.S. commitment to positive engagement with Europe." The editorial calls the "incorporation of 10 or more once-communist nations in Central and Eastern Europe into the Continent's dominant institutions, which are the European Union and NATO, [a] concrete and urgent piece of unfinished business that has not yet been the subject of adequate attention in U.S.-European discussions."
The editorial adds that Bush should strongly state his support for both EU and NATO expansion, making clear to East and West Europeans that "the United States will remain engaged in the Continent and committed to its security." The editorial adds that in doing this, President Bush would also be "[providing] candidate nations, particularly the Balkans, with a clear set of incentives to strengthen their new democratic institutions and professionalize their militaries -- and an assurance that their future lies with the democratic nations of the West."
NEW YORK TIMES:
"The New York Times" correspondent Suzanne Daley, writing in a news analysis from Paris, notes that increasingly, "Europe and the United States seem to be parting company on a range of social issues that often makes it harder for them to understand each other, in what [the nations] describe as a growing gap in values."
One reason for this, she says, is that in contrast to Bush's conservative agenda, "Europe is dominated by left-of-center governments that hold fast to the notion that a compassionate state is needed to make sure that inequalities produced by a free market system do not get out of hand."
Daley adds that both political entities are evolving, and are in a period of readjustment both internally and with respect to one another. She quotes political analyst Charles Grant as saying, "As the only superpower, America is awfully tempted to get its way by bullying and occasionally trying to zap people into line. At the same time, Europe is becoming a coherent entity and wanting to be heard."
Daley adds that Bush's methods may also be at issue. She writes: "Many suggest that his tough talk sits poorly with Europeans who are just trying to perfect the art of getting along with one another. His declarations that the United States will act unilaterally [has] stirred a growing sense of indignation here." Daley notes that this indignation is expected to be vented in the form of the numerous protests that threaten to accompany Bush throughout his European visit.
A commentary in the "Financial Times" by international affairs editor Quentin Peel looks at Ireland's decision on 8 June to reject the Nice Treaty. He writes that the vote was "an acute embarrassment for the Irish government and for all the EU leaders, coming just days before their first meeting with George W. Bush, the U.S. president. Instead of presenting enlargement as a fait accompli, they will be demonstrating what a difficult and divisive political process it is, throughout Europe."
The problem for supporters of the Nice Treaty, Peel says, was that the reasons to be for it were incomprehensible to most voters -- "a week before the referendum more that 50 percent said they did not understand it, or even know vaguely what it was about," he writes. The lesson to be learned from the Irish referendum, Peel says, is that "far more effort will have to be made to engage ordinary people in the European process if they are to be persuaded to accept an enlarged and more complex EU."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" also looks at the Irish referendum and considers the message behind the vote. It notes that the majority of the 30 percent of the population that voted did so against it, in spite of strong government support for the treaty among both ruling and opposition parties. The editorial says that this is "another warning that the people of Europe still cherish their democratic prerogatives, and do not take it kindly when they feel that they've been neglected or trampled."
While the vote should not be interpreted as a vote against Europe, the editorial continues, the EU should address the concerns for national sovereignty that seem to be at the heart of many misgivings across the Continent. "It would be a grave mistake," it adds, "for the EU to blithely ignore the Irish vote or treat it as a nonevent in the process of ratification. It would make a mockery of the ratification process if the question were simply resubmitted to the Irish voters until they came back with the 'right' answer."
The editorial says that the Commission and the Irish government should instead "listen carefully [and] go foreword from there. This may mean tinkering with the treaty to address Irish concerns," it writes. "If this is not possible, a new treaty may need to be written."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Comment in the German press concentrates on the result of the 8 June elections in Iran. Iran's reformist-dominated parliament yesterday re-elected as its leaders two close allies of President Mohammad Khatami, who won his second term in office with a 77 percent mandate. Christian Hoffman in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" describes the election as a "referendum on reform." Despite many setbacks to the reform movement, it seems that -- considering the high voter turnout -- most Iranians have not yet given up the hope that their vote might change their country's destiny. Hoffman adds: "Mr. Khatami has been compared to Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who wanted to save socialism and the Soviet Union with reforms and thus accelerated the collapse of both."
But Hoffman argues that the "powers-that-be in Iran are not the exhausted and moribund gerontocracy of the late Soviet Union, but a relatively youthful political elite in their 40s and 50s who will attempt to adapt to changing circumstances."
Hoffman goes on to discuss the problems facing Khatami in a country where the brand of politics in Iran "is the only convincing ideology in the region," and he questions the possibility of immediate changes. Having reviewed Mr. Khatami's achievements and failures, he concludes that time will show whether "[Khatami] will go down in history as the human face of an ill-conceived dictatorship, or as a man who brought peaceful transformation to Iran."
In the first days after the election it is difficult to say what the future holds for Iran. Rudolph Chimelli in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" points out that Khatami's repeated triumphs shows people's desire for more freedom. But he says hypotheses regarding any future changes are as "abundant as the number of carpet bazaars in Tehran."
The optimistic believe that the more open conservatives are ready for moderate reforms as long as the reforms are in their "own interest." The pessimists, on the other hand, fear the defeat of the conservatives will lead to tougher repression. The four years at Khatami's disposal will pass and he will not have a third chance. Additionally, there is no other charismatic personality of his caliber to take his place. Khatami will have a tough time asserting his ideas, even though the victory in itself has provided him with more self-confidence, Chimelli concludes.
Khatami is a "king without a country," says Dietrich Alexander in "Die Welt," adding that it is no surprise that he was re-elected, but nothing will change in his second mandate. He writes: "[Khatami] despairs at his lack of power, he breaks down in the power battle in the face of ruthless tactics, which under the guise of religion seek to distribute their benefices. Nevertheless, Khatami plods on quietly, slowly, pensively, maintains a balancing act between open opposition and state agenda rhetoric, which has long prevented the outbreak of civil war in Iran."
Europe and the U.S. can and must help to establish normal diplomatic and economic relations and to insist on the reform of the Islamic dictatorship. Khatami cannot achieve significant change on his own, Alexander says, but cites ever-clearer signs of protest in Iran. The people have a desire to breathe freely and Alexander says that, finally, Khatami "can provide them with fresh air."
NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" considers today's execution of Timothy McVeigh, the so-called "Oklahoma City bomber" responsible for the deaths of 168 people in 1995. The paper writes: "As a very young man, something gave Mr. McVeigh the conviction that he understood the irreducible logic of history. [He] was his own invention [and] we are left to wonder what chance event might have turned Mr. McVeigh into one of us, or perhaps into one of the merely embittered men who taught him so much about hatred but never chose to act upon it."
The paper adds that "despite the administrative fumblings of the FBI. (U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation), Mr. McVeigh's guilt is as certain as certain can be. There are no racial overtones to his conviction, no questions about his mental capacity or the quality of his legal representation. He has expressed no remorse."
The paper adds: "Some will say that there are at least 168 reasons to execute Timothy McVeigh. [But] his death, forgone though it is by now, will redeem none of those lives. As a society, we must value life more than he valued the lives he destroyed. That is a faith that Timothy McVeigh was unable to reach but which still lies within our power."
An editorial in "The Washington Post" looks at the recent U.S. National Academy of Sciences report on climate change, and its conclusion that temperatures are rising and that human activity is contributing to this rise. "Here is not only new impetus for action but an opportunity for Mr. Bush to move beyond the stance of waiting for scientific clarity," the paper says, adding: "It's time to act."
After Bush abandoned a campaign pledge to seek mandatory limits on carbon dioxide output from power plants -- and followed with an energy policy that emphasized the production and consumption of carbon dioxide-producing fossil fuels -- the paper says that "meaningful steps to limit emissions are important to restore U.S. credibility on this issue. A critical question is whether the president will rely on voluntary actions, as aides have suggested, or impose mandatory requirements," it adds.
It was the recognition that voluntary efforts were insufficient that led to the negotiation of the repudiated Kyoto Protocol in the first place, the paper notes, adding: "For all its faults, the Protocol recognized an important principle: Emissions must be addressed, and government action will be required to do it. Offering a strictly voluntary effort now would be heading backward," it writes. "To be effective, limits need to be binding."